When the alien archaeologists come to earth and dig through the ancient ruins of Best Buy, they will determine that more than anything else, we were a species obsessed with visuals. And why not? Visual imagery is immediate and flashy, and the big TVs we see them on are sleek and sexy. Sound, with its monolithic speaker boxes and clunky headphones and fussy setup, is clearly the second best sense.
At least until you put on a pair of PX5 headphones from Turtle Beach.
By Stu Horvath
The PX5, which retails for a pricey $249.95, is at its most basic a durable, wireless 7.1 surround sound headset served by a RF transmitter. That means no cables—at all. The base unit sits by your audio system, and you sit across the room. That's as close to cordless nirvana as we've gotten so far. The quality of sound we experienced with the PX5 is the best this gamer has encountered to date—the 360-degree soundscapes are lush to the extreme, and the chat channel mixes in with very good clarity. The ability to pick out fine details in the mix, like rain hitting metal or gravel sliding down the hill, adds considerable depth to the immersion factor of almost any game.
There’s a practical advantage too. Our kill counts have gone up in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (yes, we're still playing it) thanks our newfound ability to hear those footsteps sneaking up behind us. Take that, Mr. Knife Guy.
Unlike a lot of high-end headsets we’ve tried, the PX5 actually feels high-end: extremely comfortable and ergonomic. Even after long play sessions, our ears didn’t feel like they were going to fall off and burst into flames. The headset is well-constructed, and even the surface of the plastic is pleasing with its slight pebbling. They’re also surprisingly light, though we wouldn’t mind adding a little weight to make the brackets that hold the ear cups a bit more substantial—our demo unit has survived three falls and one awkward snooze on the couch completely unscathed, but those swivel joints still make us nervous.
The PX5 is works with the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. It’s also Bluetooth capable, so it'll work on a PC and your cell phone. If you have an electronic device you want to use a headset with, there’s a pretty good chance the PX5 will do the trick.
More impressive, though, is the presets system. Using proprietary software, owners can create custom settings for the headset. Want to hear every nuance of dialogue in Mass Effect 2? Create a voice-friendly preset. Want to get that bastard who keeps sneaking up on your sniper nest to knife you? Create a preset that amplifies the range of sound in footsteps (OK, that’s kind of cheating, but you can still do it). You can even create chat presets for your friends who insist on playing next to a screaming child or girlfriend, or mask your own voice to make it sound gravelly or monstrous. Perfect for those witness-protectiong programs you've been considering.
Even better, developers are creating definitive presets for their games. The first was from Visceral Games for Dead Space 2, a game with impressive sound design to begin with. For players to have the opportunity to have game audio customized by the studios themselves—without having to muck about with your surround speaker dead zones—is something to get excited about (seriously, Dead Space 2 is 25% more terrifying if you can actually hear what the ghost of Nicole is saying).
THE BOTTOM LINE
The PX5’s price point puts it at the very top of the line, but it's worth every penny. It may not have the style points of the Astro A40s, but clarity, comfort, and customizability make this headset one of the very best we’ve tested. Hardcore gamers will embrace its features and the gameplay advantages it brings; casual gamers will love the ease of use and the overall quality. If you have the cash (and hey, it's plasma-selling tax refund season!) the PX5 is definitely worth your time.